Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language

M. Dingemanse, D. E. Blasi, G. Lupyan, Morten H. Christiansen, P. Monaghan

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review

Abstract

The notion that the form of a word bears an arbitrary relation to its meaning accounts only partly for the attested relations between form and meaning in the languages of the world. Recent research suggests a more textured view of vocabulary structure, in which arbitrariness is complemented by iconicity (aspects of form resemble aspects of meaning) and systematicity (statistical regularities in forms predict function). Experimental evidence suggests these form-to-meaning correspondences serve different functions in language processing, development, and communication: systematicity facilitates category learning by means of phonological cues, iconicity facilitates word learning and communication by means of perceptuomotor analogies, and arbitrariness facilitates meaning individuation through distinctive forms. Processes of cultural evolution help to explain how these competing motivations shape vocabulary structure. The principle of arbitrariness accounts only partly for attested form-to-meaning correspondences in the vocabularies of the languages of the world. Recent research has uncovered substantial patterns of non-arbitrariness in language.Two common forms of non-arbitrariness are iconicity and systematicity, each with complementary advantages in learning and communication.A fully arbitrary vocabulary is unlikely to be a stable feature of natural languages, because form-to-meaning correspondences are shaped by cultural evolutionary processes which favour not just discriminability but also learnability and communicative utility.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Volume19
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)603-615
ISSN1364-6613
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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Vocabulary
Language
Communication
Cultural Evolution
Individuation
Research
Cues

Keywords

  • Arbitrariness
  • Iconicity
  • Lexicon
  • Sound-symbolism
  • Systematicity
  • Vocabulary
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Language Development
  • Language
  • Semantics
  • Linguistics
  • Phonetics

Cite this

Dingemanse, M., Blasi, D. E., Lupyan, G., Christiansen, M. H., & Monaghan, P. (2015). Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(10), 603-615. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.013
Dingemanse, M. ; Blasi, D. E. ; Lupyan, G. ; Christiansen, Morten H. ; Monaghan, P. / Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language. In: Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2015 ; Vol. 19, No. 10. pp. 603-615.
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Dingemanse, M, Blasi, DE, Lupyan, G, Christiansen, MH & Monaghan, P 2015, 'Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language', Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 19, no. 10, pp. 603-615. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.013

Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language. / Dingemanse, M.; Blasi, D. E.; Lupyan, G.; Christiansen, Morten H.; Monaghan, P.

In: Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 19, No. 10, 2015, p. 603-615.

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language

AU - Dingemanse, M.

AU - Blasi, D. E.

AU - Lupyan, G.

AU - Christiansen, Morten H.

AU - Monaghan, P.

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Dingemanse M, Blasi DE, Lupyan G, Christiansen MH, Monaghan P. Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2015;19(10):603-615. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.013